A Massuese for Monsieur

going to a premises  to pay a girl to touch your body can be awkward, but not in china. Here, it can be a family day out

1115_foot-massage1Let’s talk about something that’s near and dear to my heart: Dongguan’s infamous massage parlors, for feet that is. Long before I sailed to China, I’d heard fantastical tales of just how good a foot massage could be. And as luck would have it, on arrival my apartment was above a foot massage parlor. Those tales I had heard of exotic women gripping my feet, well, they were but a pale reflection of just how good a foot massage could be.

For those who never had this divine pleasure, please, let me show you the ropes (not that they use ropes). A standard foot massage lasts an hour, but it rarely starts with the feet. Instead, your feet are soaked in warm water while the pretty massage girl (and they are invariably pretty) works your back, shoulders, neck, scalp, and arms. Then, and only then, your feet are given a thorough working over, followed by your calves, and legs. More often than not, you are then asked if you want another hour.

Glorious pain
If you get one of the more muscular massage girls—the type that looks and feels like she spent years working on a farm–your massage can border on a beating. For those with masochistic tendencies (and I for one love a good beating from a pretty massage girl), a bit of pain simply makes it better; generally I consider a few bruises to be the souvenirs of an excellent massage. Another thing I love about China: in the US, paying a pretty girl to beat me senseless is frowned upon, but over here going out with family and friends for an hour of beautiful pleasure and pain is perfectly normal (that’s what I tell myself anyway).

I have had some, shall we say, “less petite” massage girls dance on my back, and I’m still here. Some have even gone from just using their feet to going up on their toes without causing me any problems.

If exquisite pain is not your thing, fear not. The masseuse will usually ask tong bu tong? (is it painful?). If it does hurt, just yell tong (pain). She will soon back down. I always say bu tong and the reason is two-fold: first, as mentioned, I’m a masochist. Second, too many massage girls suddenly shift gears if they are worried about hurting you. You can go from an incredibly strong massage to a weak one within seconds, so I always answer bu tong. My Chinese simply isn’t good enough to explain that because she found one painful spot, it doesn’t mean she should let up. So now I am an expert in hiding pain.

There’s another spectacular feature offered in some foot massage parlors: if you are bold enough, and stay for a second hour, sometimes the girl walks on your back. For many this all sounds a bit much, but unless you are particularly delicate, don’t worry. The pressure isn’t as fierce as it sounds. Many of the more, shall we say, “less petite” massage girls have danced on my back, and I’m still here. Some have even gone from just using their feet to going up on their toes without causing me problems.

1115_foot-massageTime and money
A typical massage lasts an hour, but you need to check the definition of an hour. It can mean 70 or even 80 minutes, depending on the place. In general, the clock starts when you enter the room and usually ends about five minutes early, since the massage girl needs a few minutes to collect your cash and bring back the change.

Personally, I would suggest that if it’s a massage girl you haven’t had before, you just go for one hour. You can always extend for a second. This way, if the massage isn’t good, which happens from time to time, you can bail after an hour. Plus, on occasion, if you ask for two hours up front, you sometimes merely get the standard massage stretched over twice the time. If you add that second hour, many of the girls are skilled at back walking, or you can always point out any areas that need extra work. I usually opt for the neck and shoulders and some back walking.

For years the price was about 40-50 RMB per hour, but more recently the price seems to have crept up to 70-90 RMB (damn you, inflation). A few places have ‘special’ rates of 35-50 RMB listed. These almost always fall into two categories. The first is an ‘introduction’ massage, which only lasts about 40 minutes, the bulk of which is taken up with the girl asking you to extend the time. The second is a simple bait and switch. The rate is available but only with certain girls who are, magically, never available.

Many places offer higher cost services, usually starting at 110 RMB per hour and up. This can mean anything from fire cupping, right through to getting your back scraped (it looks more painful than it is). If you are a massage fanatic like me, start with the basic package for your first time. You can always upgrade later.

The pretty massage girls usually wear a badge with an employee number. Should you find a really good one, get that number and etch it firmly in your brain. In the future you can ask for him or her specifically. If she speaks enough English or you speak enough Chinese, get her phone number and you can make an appointment. Otherwise, you get to play what I call ‘girl roulette’. Fortunately for me, the girls always nearly always do a really good job.

A ticklish question
Those of you who are more sensitive souls often avoid foot massage for fear of being tickled. Don’t worry, this rarely happens. Tickling requires lightly brushing across the sole of the foot. A proper foot massage involves firm and near continuous contact with the foot. Out of the hundreds of foot massages I’ve had, my feet have only been accidentally tickled two or three times.

Those of you who are more sensitive souls often avoid foot massage for fear of being tickled. Don’t worry, this rarely happens.

There are four main places I frequent in Dongcheng (and I’ve begun testing out a 5th). The real trick is not to focus on the facilities, but to find the girls who really know what they are doing. I’ve had great massages, and occasional bad ones at every one of these places. How good or bad a foot massage is generally come comes down to the strength and skill of the fair maiden in question. A good one will leave you feeling relaxed but energized at the same time.

Still, if you want to judge on facilities alone, the nicest foot massage place I know of in Dongcheng is Athena Foot Massage at the Pullman Hotel near Qifeng. The rooms are clean and there are several English channels on the TV. At the Pullman, the chairs are newer and a bit more comfortable than some of the other places. Many of the rooms have balconies, so you can open the curtains and sliding doors when the weather is nice. Anyway, now you have finished reading I suggest go and get a foot massage right away. You won’t regret it.